On occasion, I really do miss elementary school. Recess, art class, field trips...and of course, a time honored tradition of "What I Did This Summer," the all important back to school essay. I have been on a food sabbatical of sorts this summer, eating my way through Manhattan. Most often asked question upon my return to Miami? That would be, "what were your favorite restaurants in the city?"
Eating is such an extreme joy for me; I worked in the fashion industry for a long time, so while I lived in NYC for years, I spent a ton of time with people who don't really EAT with a capital "E." Kate Moss, the uber-waif that took the modeling world by storm with her special brand of heroin chic, once said that "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels." Everyone was up in arms over the comment at the time (9 out of 10 doctors agree that anorexia is bad, the 10th doctor worked backstage during Fashion Week). However, no one seemed to latch on to her follow up comment, "you try and remember, but it never works."
See? Even supermodels have a tough time saying "no" to food (makes me feel a bit better about the gross amounts I've consumed over the last three months; keep that in mind for your future eating endeavors as well). And I have to say, I was skinny once upon a time, and it did feel good, but exceptionally good food tastes...physically sublime, emotionally fulfilling, even other-worldly on occasion; like having your tongue sprinkled with culinary fairy dust.
So for the first time, I was presented with an opportunity to eat everything on my plate, over and over again, without fear of the bulge, which we actually encourage here at New Times. New York City is seriously like Disney World for gastronomes, with such a wide variety of flavors and interpretations of the same plate that you can explore every menu, each time, with a fresh eye (and stomach).
What I ate this summer...
10. The Spotted Pig
Why I love it:
April Bloomfield helped to create the British "gastropub" craze taking
over cities all across America, and she really likes to smoke and cure things,
which makes me love her. There are items that qualify as pub food (like
deviled eggs, pickles) and dishes that go decidedly upscale (crispy
pork belly in broth with vegetables and squash blossoms).
What to order: Begin with an order of chicken liver toast ($6) and the crispy pig's ear salad with lemon caper dressing ($15). The ricotta gnudi with basil pesto ($16) is famous, as is the burger covered in tangy Roquefort blue cheese; at lunch, try the Cubano sandwich ($18) or grilled cheese with onion marmalade and mustard ($16).
What to skip: The grilled skirt steak with lime vinaigrette ($28), which slides under the creativity radar. The meat quality is top notch, but this dish is nowhere near as interesting as other menu selections.
Why I love it: It's small, it's loud, it's a chef's first solo project that reeks of hard work and tender loving care. Seamus Mullen's "casual Spanish gastropub" always has a horrible line, but if you can snag a seat at the tiny bar and wait, you will be rewarded with a table eventually.
What to order: Start with the "Cojonudo... revisited" -- a tiny bite of smoked pig cheek, with quail egg and pepper ($5). Then move on to the Octopus croquetas if they happen to be on the "specials" line up, if not order the pulpo a la brasa ($18), a plate of grilled octopus with fingerling potatoes, Castel Vetrano olives and fresh Meyer lemon. Black and white anchovies with slow roasted tomatoes and sheep's milk cheese ($9); lamb's breast with creamy farro ($16); and don't forget about the traditional paella ($38).
What to skip: The salads. Both a sugar snap pea salad, and a salad of radish and baby carrots were overdressed to the point of mush unfortunately.
8. The John Dory Oyster Bar
Why I love it: The theme -- a cheeky underwater paradise, with seashell sconces, globe shaped fish tanks, and seafood artwork abounding. Plus they have an amazing assortment of both east and west oysters at all times.
What to order: Oysters, obviously, and a pint of the house oyster stout to wash them down, with an oyster shooter on the side (they have a special shot recipe). Then order away! The plates are small, so think big. Smoked haddock fritters with curry mayo ($11); chorizo stuffed squid ($16); oyster pan roast with uni butter crostini ($15), which is really a soup, so be certain to get a side of the salty Parker house rolls ($4.50). They are buttery, doughy, and ideal for dunking.
What to skip: The burrata with roe and mint (feels like it's not the right menu fit) and the corn chowder with mussels, which was a little too sweet to be so briny.
7. Empellón Taquiera
Why I love it: It's sorta Mexican, sorta something else, with a strange mesh of ingredients that create a lively, and often colorful surprise on the plate. The ceviches here change often, but are always fresh and inventive (cocktails likewise!).
What to order: The cheesy queso fundido with bright green crumbly chorizo ($13); the scallop and fish tempura tacos ($20, $18), short ribs sopes ($11), and the incredibly tasty guacamole ($12), studded with whole smoked cashews and served with multiple salsas.
What to skip: The sweetbread tacos, which were heavily fried and sadly bled out in the process, leaving empty nuggets of overly crispy batter that was sincerely difficult to chew.
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Why I love it: This restaurant has intimacy and romantic charm, it's a great place for a date! They also have a terrific tasting menu that lets you select the plate progression based on your hunger pains (5 courses, $75, 7 courses, $100, 10 courses, $150).
What to order: The little nibble of bone marrow with onion marmalade and trout roe ($11) and the buffalo sweetbreads starter ($15); spot prawn crudo with fried heads ($15) if they have it; then you'll have a tough time deciding between the oxtail and prawn "lasagne" with crustacean cream ($23), the cauliflower raviolo with sepia, guanciale, mascarpone and ocean broth ($19), or the fresh cut spaghetti with sweet shrimp, stewed tomatoes and sea urchin ($24); please order the Berkshire pork belly with rock shrimp and sherry caramel ($18) as well, you won't regret it.
What to skip: The salt cod fritters arrive on top of a lamb sausage ragu with a curry aioli ($12), and while all components were individually good when consumed, they don't seem to combine that well in one bite. The ragu is rightfully a bit spicy, the cod rightfully is a bit salty, and the curry is a bit strong...mismatched playmates perhaps.
Stay tuned for Part Two... my top five restaurants in NYC.